A look at Stewart’s credits reveals something obvious: a dearth of opportunities to flex his romantic-lead acting muscles. The 1975 BBC adaptation of Elizabeth Gaskell’s “North & South” rates as a rare exception. Viewers glimpsed a different side of Stewart, one that is conflicted but romantic in the best of ways. In the miniseries, a spirited young woman named Margaret Hale (Rosalind Shanks) finds her life significantly altered when her father moves their family to the industrial world of Milton. As she begins to recognize the brutal ways of her new home, Margaret encounters various fascinating figures that impact her, including the cold, calculated (but handsome) mill owner, John Thornton, played, of course, by the future Sir Patrick.
At first glance, Stewart’s portrayal of Thornton comes off a tad one-note and seems more focused on highlighting the anti-social aspects of the character and nothing else. But as “North & South” progresses, audiences will note the kindness at the core of John’s soul, which Stewart organically displays during the miniseries’ most emotional sequences. One such example occurs during the second episode when John heroically carries a fainted Margaret up the stairs and whispers his love for her. And while this “North & South” has its messy and lackluster qualities when it comes to its direction, Stewart’s take on Thornton remains one of its better aspects.